James Roberts (Athabascan) of Tanana is on the cast of the Yukon Men television show. I caught up with James recently to ask him about what it is like to be a part of the show and to find out more about him. James and his wife, Cindy, live in Tanana with their children.
James just finished wrapping up the fifth season of Yukon Men. He has gained a new appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes of TV shows and movies. James says, “I’m always trying to figure out camera angles and lenses.” It has been exciting for him to participate on the show and has gained a better understanding of how they make it.
According to his cast member bio, James Roberts provides firewood to many of the residents of Tanana while also managing his growing dog kennel. He is a true businessman always looking for new ways to earn a living. But at the end of the day James is a family man and providing for his wife and four kids is all that matters.
While James’ day to day life hasn’t changed too much over the years, he appreciates the extra income from the show. James enjoys getting to know the Yukon Men crew. He shares his life with the crew for a short and intense amount of time. Then, life quiets down when they leave. James says, “It is a lot of fun working with these guys.” One crew member was from New York, and it was his first time being in the wild. James says you see the best and worst coming out of people when they are put into a wild environment. James finds himself wanting to just hang out sometime, but they have a job to do.
You can see James sharing his traditional knowledge and how to survive in the wilderness on the show. He teaches his sons about hunting, fishing, logging and other skills they need to survive life in a village. James also wants to teach his sons the difference between right and wrong. Life in the village can be tough and there are many lessons to learn. He tries to share his hard-earned life lessons with his sons.
“Stick to the beliefs of your elders and people. Those are really common sense things. If you live by the Native values, you’ll have a good life.” – James Roberts (Athabascan) of Tanana
James has been sober for 24 years. The hardest part was when he first quit drinking alcohol. James says, “You have to be alone, walk alone…do everything on your own.” And as hard as it was for him to quit, being sober has made his life easier. He can wake up in the morning without a hangover and is always ready to go.
I asked James what he wanted people to know about Athabascans and other Alaska Native people. He said, “Alaska Natives are the nicest best people around. They have a really good sense of humor. They don’t abandon each other whether they are homeless or without food or wood.” James is proud of Athabascan people and where he is from because they always help each other.
James enjoys living off the land. As with many villages, people hunt, fish and trap to survive off the land. James appreciates the whole process, from hunting to processing food to cooking it for his family. At the same time, there is a struggle to survive in the western civilization. People have instant access to information, entertainment and even microwaveable food is available in minutes.
My dad was a dog musher, so I grew up with a back yard full of dogs in Huslia, Nome and Bettles. I asked James about dog mushing. He says, “Dog Mushing is good because it is a physically active thing and it keeps you in good shape.” It is a lot more than just dog mushing though. James goes fishing to provide for his dogs. He acknowledged dog mushing is a dying part of his culture. With instant access to snow machines, trucks or boats for transportation, it can be a struggle to justify having a dog team. James says, “It is not like you have to have dogs any more. It is more of a privilege.” It is a privilege he enjoys participating in and sharing with his sons.
What many people may not know about James is that he is an excellent cook. When he was young, he took culinary arts classes. James enjoys cooking wild foods, like grilling a salmon within an hour of catching it. He and his family enjoy gourmet moose burgers and fancy fish meals. While his sons enjoy his food, they also enjoy food cooked by his wife.
I asked James if he could share something to watch for in the new season, but he wasn’t sure. He says, “It’s tough…you just don’t know what they are going to show.” It sometimes gives him and the cast members anxiety because they are not sure what parts will be aired. James acknowledges how some parts are chosen because it may look more interesting or create more drama.
At the end of the day in regards to the show, James says, “We are just TV personalities.” He laughed and said he wishes they show more of the things that went right instead of wrong. James learned early on to separate his real life from his TV life. He has also gained some acting skills from being on the show. James pays close attention to actors on TV and movies and picks up on nuances of actors when he watches TV.
James admires and appreciates Alaska Native Woman. He says, “Alaska Native woman are very very special. The most beautiful, orneriest and toughest woman ever.” He is proud to bring food home to his wife and sons. James says, “If you get a good Alaska Native woman, you are going to be in good shape.”
As you can see, we can learn a few lessons from James. He is down to earth and a great provider for his family and community. Thank you James Roberts for sharing a little bit about your life and what it is like to live on the Yukon River.
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